Black designers gain momentum in the Year of Accounts

Since the murder of George Floyd last May and the subsequent manifestations of Black Lives Matter (BLM) around the world, the experiences of black jewelers in the industry have become evident.

Black jewelers in the US and UK wrote open letters to the industry about its inequalities and the changes they wanted to see. Then, in October, London-based jeweler Kassandra Lauren Gordon published a UK-wide survey with the Goldsmiths ‘Company and the Goldsmiths’ Center (a UK charity for the training of goldsmiths) on the experiences of jewelers. blacks in industry. The responses highlighted a lack of funding, business experience and role models. She also raised almost £ 20,000 for black jewelers, while the Goldsmiths’ Company Charity donated an additional £ 6,000.

A year after these calls for change, there have been changes, but there is still a long way to go. Although black jewelers have maximized their new opportunities, many still face challenges, says Vania Leles, founder of VanLeles Diamonds in London. And, in a slowly changing industry, it could take three or four generations to overcome.

Gordon says she now feels more comfortable in the industry, having discovered more black jewelers since she began her investigation. She also has an Artist-in-Residence role and workspace at Taylor & Hart Custom Jewelers. “I learn from others, from stone setters, from people in the trade,” she says of her white colleagues.

The BLM events have also inspired creativity. Natalie Ifill, who founded the Jewelery by Eilatan brand last year, creates pendants from recycled silver and bronze with the closed fist BLM. His designs, with names like Know Your Power and Fists Up !, have “drawn people to me, not necessarily in sales, but following me and wanting to support me,” Ifill says. She turned her hobby into a business while on leave from her part-time work in art management at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Natalie Ifill, founder of Eilatan jewelry in her London studio © Charlie Bibby / FT

Natalie Ifill creates recycled silver and bronze pendants with the closed fist Black Lives Matter © Charlie Bibby / FT

New organizations created new initiatives. The Black in Jewelry Coalition, established in October, offers its international members webinars and educational resources, such as an online directory of black jewelry designers and black-owned businesses. In January, the Haute Joaillerie Couture Show launched a mentoring program through its diversity initiative, with 15 Latin, Asian and black jewelers.

“As long as we stay together, we will definitely be at the forefront,” says Castro, founder of the Castro NYC brand. “It can’t be one at a time because, if we’re one at a time, we’re going to disappear.” He launched his line of shamanic jewelry from gem-encrusted padlocks, porcelain doll parts and more in 2006, selling handmade earrings on the streets of SoHo in New York City, but has since moved on. in Istanbul.

Castro NYC Flamingo earrings © Castro NYC

Black-owned businesses also attract funding. Jameel Mohammed founded his diasporic black luxury brand Khiry in 2016 with $ 25,670 as a result of a Kickstarter campaign. Last September, he received $ 100,000 of a $ 1 million grant initially awarded to design agency Harlem’s Fashion Row through an initiative called A Common Thread, led by fashion magazine Vogue and the Council of Fashion. Designers of America. Then, in May, he received $ 50,000 directly from the CFDA / Vogue Fashion Fund.

Mohammed spends money to grow his team, develop new product categories, such as housewares and digital marketing.

Jameel Mohammed founded Khiry in 2016 © Jameel Mohammed

US National Youth Poetess Amanda Gorman recently wore Khiry Khartoum Torc’s ornate choker necklace on the cover of Time magazine © Time / Awol Erizku

Networking is now flourishing among black jewelers. Ifill is a member of the UK’s Black Jewelers Network, which was established last year and is led by Gordon via social media. In addition to meeting other members, jewelers can learn from discussions on everything from lab-grown diamonds to spending habits. “Since I started in night school, I haven’t learned any of this,” says Ifill.

Castro belongs to an informal network of black jewelers, including Leles and Sheryl Jones, who have come together after appearing in the media. “Being able to call one up and ask a question. . . having that support group is important, ”he says. “We follow each other and hope [will] meet one day.

Ida Petersson, purchasing manager at fashion retailer Browns in London, has been supplying the store with black jewelry brands such as Mateo New York and Laud since 2018, because they “bring something really unique and have a strong voice and come together. all stand out individually, ”she says. Mateo New York’s quirky gemstone necklaces with initials inside placed the brand among the store’s top 10 jewelry sellers.

Earrings by Mateo New York

Earrings by Mateo New York

Others have broadened their selection to include black jewelers. “The focus is more on brands that have something to say,” says Nashville-based stylist Tiffany Gifford, who originally wanted to use jewelry from London-based Thelma West to dress the country singer. Mickey Guyton for this year’s Grammy Awards. Logistical delays meant Gifford opted for Los Angeles-based Neil Lane jewelry instead.

There were new clients, and collaborators too. VanLeles Diamonds is opening new workshops in New York and Los Angeles this year, following the doubling of its online customers in the United States since last summer.

Even so, some wonder if the enthusiasm for black-owned jewelry brands will last. Gordon emphasizes that inclusiveness does not affect results. Castro adds that “there is always a micro-group that changes or at least adjusts but, on the whole, it comes down to what it does”.

However, other talents are expected to emerge. Stephen Bottomley, director of the School of Jewelery at the University of the City of Birmingham, said most black students at the school take the National Practical Higher Diploma in order to be trained for future jobs. Likewise, at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, Kim Nelson, deputy chair of the jewelry design program, sees the latest cohort of African-American students as much more entrepreneurial.

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